THE BASIS POINT

Amazon’s ‘Rufus’ AI named after a team member’s dog. Should AI be personalized like this?

 
 

Amazon’s new AI shopping assistant is named Rufus after a dog who belonged to Amazon.com’s editor in chief and principal engineer in the early days.

Here’s how Amazon tells the Rufus back story:

For years, Rufus was a fixture at Amazon.com, dating back to the early days in the company’s history. He belonged to Amazon’s former editor-in-chief and principal engineer, and he accompanied them to the office every day. During his tenure, Rufus could be found strolling our hallways, sitting in on meetings (he loved a meeting), or catching a few z’s in his crate. He was a master of the hallway tennis ball chase, and had everyone snookered into giving him too many treats. When Amazon customers found out there was an Amazon dog, they sent Rufus presents. His proudest accomplishment: starting up the dog-friendly culture at Amazon.com. Employees who bring their four-legged friends to work today have Rufus to thank.

In October, ChatGPT pioneer and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman noted the risks of over-personalizing AI, saying:

“I personally really have deep misgivings about this vision of the future where everyone is super close to AI friends, and not more so with their human friends. We named it ChatGPT and not a person’s name very intentionally.”

Unlike most other big tech firms who brand their AI very personally, OpenAI is good so far about clarifying to users that they aren’t talking to a person.

Even if many may want personal connections with AI assistants, I think it’s important to delineate for two reasons.

First, it’s more healthy for people to be reminded they’re dealing with machines and not humans as AI advances. This will be more important later, but the precedents get set now.

Second, I would argue that when AI goes bad for companies in the future (which it will, in ways we don’t know yet), it would tarnish brands less if their AI branding was less personalized. It’s easier to have a backlash field day with a personalized brand than a machine brand like ChatGPT.

And finally, no disrespect to Rufus the Amazon wonder dog, but I was kind of hoping Amazon named their AI after legendary comedian George Carlin’s Rufus character in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

George Carlin as Rufus in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Let me know your thoughts.

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Reference:

Amazon unveils ‘Rufus’ AI shopping assistant, rolling out in coming weeks in mobile app

 

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